lust, of course, involves a craving for sex. jim pfaus, a psychologist at concordia university, in montreal, says the aftermath of lustful sex is similar to the state induced by taking opiates. a heady mix of chemical changes occurs, including increases in the levels of serotonin, oxytocin, vasopressin and endogenous opioids (the body's natural equivalent of heroin). “this may serve many functions, to relax the body, induce pleasure and satiety, and perhaps induce bonding to the very features that one has just experienced all this with”, says dr pfaus.
then there is attraction, or the state of being in love (what is sometimes known as romantic or obsessive love). this is a refinement of mere lust that allows people to home in on a particular mate. this state is characterised by feelings of exhilaration, and intrusive, obsessive thoughts about the object of one's affection. some researchers suggest this mental state might share neurochemical characteristics with the manic phase of manic depression. dr fisher's work, however, suggests that the actual behavioural patterns of those in love—such as attempting to evoke reciprocal responses in one's loved one—resemble obsessive compulsive disorder (ocd).that raises the question of whether it is possible to “treat” this romantic state clinically, as can be done with ocd. the parents of any love-besotted teenager might want to know the answer to that. dr fisher suggests it might, indeed, be possible to inhibit feelings of romantic love, but only at its early stages. ocd is characterised by low levels of a chemical called serotonin. drugs such as prozac work by keeping serotonin hanging around in the brain for longer than normal, so they might stave off romantic feelings. (this also means that people taking anti-depressants may be jeopardising their ability to fall in love.) but once romantic love begins in earnest, it is one of the strongest drives on earth. dr fisher says it seems to be more powerful than hunger. a little serotonin would be unlikely to stifle it.wonderful though it is, romantic love is unstable—not a good basis for child-rearing. but the final stage of love, long-term attachment, allows parents to co-operate in raising children. this state, says dr fisher, is characterised by feelings of calm, security, social comfort and emotional union.